Monday, November 22, 2004


Question: Today is the anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination in Dallas, Texas. How many other presidents have been assassinated in U.S. history?
From: Bill B. of Ft. Worth, Texas
Date: November 22, 2004

Gleaves answers: ASSASSINATIONS

In U.S. history, four presidents have been assassinated, each by a gunman:

1. The first American president to be assassinated was Abraham Lincoln, who was shot five weeks into his second term by John Wilkes Booth, in Washington, DC, in a Good Friday performance of a play at Ford's Theater on April 14, 1865; he died within hours. As part of the same conspiracy, Secretary of State William Seward was attacked the same evening; he survived the assassination attempt by an accomplice of John Wilkes Booth who was known as Lewis Powell or Lewis Paine.

2. James A. Garfield was shot just months into his term of office by Charles J. Guiteau on July 2, 1881, in Washington, DC; he died September 19, 1881, making his administration the second shortest in American history.

3. William McKinley was shot a few months into his second term, in Buffalo, New York, by Leon Czolgosz on September 6, 1901; clinging to life barely a week, he passed away on September 14, 1901.

4. John F. Kennedy was shot three years into his presidency by Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963. Because of number of people believe that Oswald was part of a conspiracy, it has become the most investigated murder mystery in human history.


In addition to the four presidents who have been assassinated, there have been assassination attempts against five presidents:

- Andrew Jackson was an assassin's target in 1835.

- Franklin D. Roosevelt was the intended victim in Miami on February 15, 1932, when he was president elect; the mayor of Chicago, Anton J. Cermak, was between FDR and the gunman Giuseppe Zangara; he paid with his life three weeks later.

- Harry S. Truman escaped injury on November 1, 1950, in Washington, DC, when Puerto Rican nationalists tried to shoot their way into Blair House, where the president was staying as the White House was undergoing renovation. One of the White House Police, Officer Leslie Coffelt, died in the line of duty.

- Gerald R. Ford was targeted for assassination twice in September of 1975 by women in California. The first attempt against his life occurred on September 5, 1975, in Sacramento, when Lynette Alice (Squeaky) Fromme aimed but did not fire a .45-caliber pistol at the president. The second attempt occurred in San Francisco, just a little over two weeks later, on September 22, 1975, when Sara Jane Moore fired one shot from a .38-caliber pistol that was deflected.

- Ronald Reagan was seriously wounded by John W. Hinckley, Jr., on March 30, 1981, as he emerged from a speaking engagement; three other people were also seriously wounded.

There was a serious assassination attempt against one former president, Theodore Roosevelt, who was shot in Milwaukee on October 14, 1912, while attempting to make a comeback for president. When he was shot, TR was on his way to deliver a speech and famously fulfilled his duty before going to the hospital.

In sum, 10 U.S. presidents were the target of assassins:
- four were shot to death;
- five survived assassination attempts (in Ford's case, twice in one month);
- and one ex-president survived an assassination attempt.

Two other politicians with presidential aspirations were assassinated: Louisiana Senator Huey Long (1935) and New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy (1968). Plus there was an assassination attempt against Alabama governor and presidential candidate George Wallace, who was left paralyzed from the waist down (1972).


The U.S. Secret Service is charged with guarding the president. What is not widely know is that the Secret Service was organized in the U.S. Treasury Department in 1865, and remained there until 2003. At the founding their primary mission was to suppress counterfeit currency; during the first decades of its existence, the official responsibility of Secret Service agents did not include protecting U.S. presidents. They began an informal relationship with the White House only in 1894, during Grover Cleveland's second administration; they were with neither Presidents Garfield nor McKinley when they were shot.

It was McKinley's assassination by a terrorist in 1901 that spurred Congress to action, and the relationship between the White House and Secret Service evolved significantly during the next two decades. Already in 1901 Capitol Hill informally asked the Secret Service to provide protection for the president. The next year, with Theodore Roosevelt in the White House, the Secret Service assumed full-time responsibility for protecting the president; two agents were assigned full time to the White House detail. Also about this time, the Secret Service began protecting the president-elect. Before leaving office, TR transferred eight Secret Service agents to the Department of Justice. They formed the nucleus of what is now the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Further changes occurred during Woodrow Wilson's time in office. In 1913, his first year in the White House, Congress authorized permanent protection of the president and president-elect. Four years later the next logical step was made. Congress authorized permanent protection of the president's immediate family. Moreover, anybody who made "threats" against the president committed a federal crime.

The White House Police Force was established in 1922, at Warren Harding's request. Only in 1930, during the Hoover administration, was the White House Police Force brought under the supervision of the U.S. Secret Service.

1951 was an important year for the Secret Service. Because of the attempt on President Truman's life, Congress enacted legislation that permanently authorized Secret Service protection of the president, his immediate family, the president-elect, and the vice president, if he requests it.

In 1962, during the Kennedy administration, Congress passed a law that expanded the charge of the Secret Service to protect the vice president.

One final note: "Congress passed legislation in 1994 stating that presidents elected to office after January 1, 1997, will receive Secret Service protection for 10 years after leaving office. Individuals elected to office prior to January 1, 1997, will continue to receive lifetime protection."[1]

On March 1, 2003, The U.S. Secret Service moved from Treasury to the newly-formed Department of Homeland Security, where it is today.

[1] For the history of the U.S. Secret Service, see the official Website at the U.S. Department of the Treasury at


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